Maggie McDowell: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

maggie

Maggie and I met at Belmont University when she was a Senior and I was Freshman! I have always looked up to her and was thrilled when she agreed to chat over coffee. She brought her perfect baby, Thomas to share in the cool vibes at Up Heights. This is one of the most underrated cafes uptown! It was cozy and cool with a grafitti wall, painted library bookshelf, and options of gelato, specialized coffee drinks, or pastries. Over baby cuddles and iced coffee we talk how Maggie got her Equity card, path to her Broadway debut, why she’s a true believer in open calls, and what it’s like now balancing a baby and a side-business! 

Drink of choice: Iced Coffee


AF: We have Maggie AND Thomas on the blog!

MM: Thomas just woke up for the interview!

AF: We are both drinking iced coffees… but Maggie- what is your usual drink of choice?

MM: Iced coffee, girl. With a baby you need caffeine quickly and it takes too long to drink coffee for me. I guess I’m just a wimp but I need it to be a lot cooler…or else… I just can’t.

AF: Also holding a baby on you…

MM: Yes, if you’re drinking over them, you don’t want to have to worry about spilling scalding hot coffee! Iced coffee is my go-to. Even in the dead of winter… it’s fast and it’s good. You need a lot of caffeine when you have a baby!

AF: I’m glad you can drink it now!

MM: Oh yes. Me too.

AF: So I always ask… what is your back-story? I mean…I know…but other people don’t!

MM: I grew up in CT in the Hartford area and I grew up singing in choir and doing the church musicals. My mom is from Georgia and my dad’s from Seattle so Connecticut was kind of like a random place for us. So, because of that I wanted to get out New England for college especially since I knew I wanted to end up in New York City. I wanted to give myself a chance to explore another part of the country. My sister went to Vanderbilt so I had heard about Belmont in Nashville. I studied Musical Theatre with Annabelle there! Yeah- I loved their program, I loved that city… it was the best of both worlds. I loved that we had a full college experience with a campus and all that but we were also in a city. When I moved to New York I felt like I’d had the full college experience whereas if I’d gone to college in the city I think I may have been distracted…. being pulled in all sorts of different directions… so it was a really great fit for me! And then I moved to New York after graduation and I’ve been here ever since!

AF: And now she has a perfect baby!

MM: I do! I met my husband in college. He was not a Musical Theatre major… he was in Music Business.

AF: But always fully supportive of it. He’s like a Musical Theatre nerd on the inside!

MM: His sister did theatre in high school so I think that prepped him for being around crazy theatre people. I remember one the first times we hung out was at a Musical Theatre party that I threw for our friend, Andrea, and I think what I was so impressed by was how comfortable he was in that crowd. I didn’t have to babysit him and I thought he was just so independent! He’s always so comfortable at cast parties and opening nights even though he’s not in the biz! He did some internships in the city with Jimmy Fallon, moved to New York, and has been working with the same ad agency as a music supervisor ever since, so he’s killin’ it!

AF: I didn’t realize that!

MM: He really holds down the fort.

AF: And we’re neighbors! So what did your first couple of years look like in the city? What was that path like for you?

MM: I moved here when I was Non-Eq…

AF: And how was that?

MM: I don’t think I even really knew what was happening. I just knew you get up really early in the morning and sit outside in the cold… and I did that. I woke up early and I pounded the pavement. My first year in the city I booked two shows at Equity houses as a Non-Equity performer. One was Legally Blonde at Fireside Playhouse and I booked Doralee in Nine to Five at Theatre by the Sea. Those were amazing and led me to a couple more Equity contracts and I got my card doing the role of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. That director introduced me to my agents. So when I got back from that contract it was the summertime so I just went to a ton of EPA’s to figure out what that was like. It was exciting to finally get seen and be able to build on relationships with casting directors. Even though must calls were required it was great to get in that room… It was a good time to get in the groove and see what it was like to have my card! The end of that summer I went to an EPA for a show I’d never heard of. And I read on the ‘in the room’ page that Seth Rudetsky was the accompanist. I sang a song that I pulled out of nowhere…. It was “Baracuda by Heart” I had this random book of music from college that of sheet music that I had printed on random occasions and I knew I needed a song from the 1970’s so I flipped through only looking at the bottom of every page at the copywright dates and saw 1979. Stephen plunked it out on his guitar and then the first time I sang it was in the audition… I just remember after I sang Seth said ‘nice belt!’ And I literally looked down to see if I was wearing a belt…

AF: Haha- does he remember that?

MM: Haha probably not! But anyways… I got cast in an Off-Broadway production of Disaster! I was cast in the ensemble. During the end of the run they bumped me up to the role of Marianne, which was such a blast.

AF: And how long was that run?

MM: We ran November to April… it was amazing. Then I did some regional theatre that summer and kept on hitting the EPA’s, getting some appointments…but I’ve always believed in the open calls. That’s how I was first seen for Kinky Boots.

AF: You are a walking testament that EPA’s matter. I think a lot of people believe nobody is really there looking…

MM: You just never know! I’ve gone to a ton of required calls but to me it’s about building the relationships, getting in front of people, obviously going to things you’re right for… but I feel when those opportunities did come about… it was because I’d done the leg work. I’d auditioned for Kinky Boots a lot but tried not to give up hope so I decided it wasn’t a matter of if but a matter of when. I went in for another project that this casting director was casting… and I got a callback for that and then over the weekend a role opened up in Kinky Boots on tour… and because I’d been in callbacks for that so much in the past… the direct offer for a role came on a Monday after auditioning for something else! I guess I was fresh in their minds and things just worked out. And then Disaster! came back around and I got to make my Broadway debut in a show that I just LOVED. It’s totally my sense of humor. It’s so silly and has amazing music… and so yeah… that’s been my path! New York has been good to me so far. I feel like it’s just a matter of putting yourself out there.

AF: So how does the city feel now with a baby, navigating auditions… where do you see yourself in ten years?

MM: So- obviously the baby’s still really young but I have started going to some auditions! A friend of ours is helping out in the mornings, and I’m going to some EPA’s and ECC’s but it doesn’t feel much different than after being gone on tour or something. Except you have to pay for childcare-ha! There are some new faces in casting since before I was pregnant and so, I feel like it’s helpful for me to go in and meet these people and build these relationships so when I get submitted they know who I am.

AF: We’re so distracted by Thomas right now. He’s so happy and so good!

MM: He’s so amazingly fat.

AF: He’s the most adorable little fatty blob!

MM: I just stare at him all day… he’s just the sweetest.

AF: You made a beautiful, perfect, luscious baby. So as you were saying… you’re working on reestablishing yourself…getting back in the room…

MM: It gives me a chance to revisit my book, and reminds me what I do… in the audition room… and by putting that into practice so when I do get appointments I won’t go in super “cold.” It’s the way that I’ve booked work in the past… and it does take a little bit of extra effort… but I’m already up early in the morning with Thomas! What’s great is when I’m downtown auditioning I’ll book practice rooms and there’s something really therapeutic about singing above lullaby volume. It’s like….”oh this is what I do.” You’re either too busy pounding the pavement, walking the dog, making sure the baby is fed that you forget, “I’m a performer and I sing and I need this.” That practice time is like my own therapy session. I have no idea what will be next but I feel like since Stephen and I moved to the city we’ve kind of been making it up as we go…

AF: And I have to commend you both! We’re all trying to figure it out but you guys set such a good example of partnership, putting each other and your family first, and it’s really encouraging to see how you’re making it work in such a healthy way!

MM: Thank you! We talk a lot about being a team first and foremost… none of what we do is easy and living in the city is not easy. All of my success is thanks to him. I can’t tell you how many times when I first moved here, my alarm would go off at 5:30 am and I wouldn’t want to go and he held me accountable. It’s important to him because it’s important to me. He’s been a constant encouragement and cheerleader to keep me accountable to keep trying. I’ve had plenty of rejection and it’s easy to want to give up when you’re down to the final two and don’t book… but at the end of the day because we have each other none of that all seems too bad.

AF: You help each other maintain the healthy perspective.

MM: Yes… and I feel because there’s so much rejection and because everything’s so unpredictable… you have to have a life outside of performing! It doesn’t have to be being married with a baby… that ended up being my path. But it could be investing in important friendships, or having a side business, or teaching, or a hobby that fulfills you…something that fuels you other than performing because what we do is so unpredictable and there’s so much rejection involved that if that’s your end all be all… that’s going to be pretty hard to stay positive. You need other things in your life that bring you joy and that you can focus on! Also on the flipside, that way when you get in the room you’re also bringing in those varied life experiences…. you are a well rounded human! One of my first auditions back was portraying a woman in labor and it was like ‘wow I’ve got so much sense memory for this!’ Living life outside of the bubble of performing keeps me sane.

 AF: So now tell us how you got started with Rodan and Fields!

MM: It’s been so great! It came to me as our family was growing and I was exploring ways I could work from home. My ‘survival job’ while I’m auditioning was always working in childcare/babysitting…and now I’m a full time babysitter aka MOM! If I ever do spend time away from him I didn’t want to spend it bartending or in retail, I want it to be at auditions or booking my next job. So, a girlfriend of mine who’s in Nashville, has a toddler, and is running her business from home, and I just loved the flexibility. I also just wanted to treat myself as a new mom with amazing skincare products that work. So, when I found out I could have both… it was a no brainer. Since its virtual with no inventory, I can do it from wherever so, its been a great side hustle. Performance jobs are unpredictable and so, ya gotta pay for diapers somehow!

AF: That’s so great. I need that Lash-Boost!

MM: Well I have a girlfriend who doesn’t even wear fake lashes in her Broadway show because her lashes are so long from the serum. It’s good to feel confident in your skin whether you’re a performer or not. So I’m wearing a lot of hats these days! Mom, Actress and new business owner!

AF: So what would you say your words of wisdom would be to someone who’s an aspiring artist, mom… what are words that resonate a lot with you lately?

MM: Well something that mom has always told me is, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’ve always loved that. She’s always told me if you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t know if it’s for you or not. If you don’t ‘venture’ you’ll never ‘gain’ anything. There have been a lot of things I didn’t think I was right for and I ended up booking because it’s just not up to us!

 AF: What role??

 MM: I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t know much about the classic Annie Oakley… and somebody else saw that for me. I almost said no to the audition because I didn’t see it for myself. And in terms of having a family… there’s never the “right” timing for that, especially as a performer, but we ventured and took the leap and it ended up being the perfect timing. I had no idea what the insane joy this would bring to us. We’ve gained so much. At the end of the day, having a family was really important to us and the rest of the performing stuff will fall into place. I didn’t know what that was going to look like and I still don’t know what it will happen. I just know I didn’t want to wait until my career was in the “perfect spot” cause I don’t think you’ll ever know.

 AF: Thomas, any last words?

MM: Haha- he agrees, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

AF: You are doing it. You are paving the way!

MM: It’s a juggling act! But he always comes first and we continue to just make it up as we go! I knew that I always wanted to be a performer but I also always wanted to be a mom. If something is important to you and you work hard it will always work out. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

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